Local boxing luminaries praise ‘Southpaw’ for realism

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Livonia — Former boxing champion Thomas Hearns and recently retired boxer Bronco McKart sat one row apart during the Detroit premiere of the movie “Southpaw,” which debuts nationwide Friday.

And they agree: It’s better than the Academy Award winning “Rocky.”

It isn’t even close — and they should know.

“Southpaw,” which stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent, with Eminem executive producing the soundtrack, is a shocking and realistic view of the sport. The story of Billy Hope’s boxing success and failures puts the audience through a roller coaster of emotions.

It’s a movie Hearns could identify with. He’s boxed at Caesars Palace. He’s a world champion who fell hard during the final stages of his career. He’s heard stories of managers and promoters gone bad, and seen boxers lose millions.

“It is more realistic,” Hearns said. “I mean I am not knocking ‘Rocky.’ ‘Southpaw’ is more realistic as to what is happening in boxing. I know the things that happened in the movie can happen. I know they happened when I was boxing.”

But “Southpaw” won’t get the acclaim of “Rocky” because of the timing. “Rocky” came out in 1976 — the United States Bicentennial — and became an American folktale.

In today’s game, “Southpaw” just won’t be able to replace an American classic, even if it is better.

No punches pulled

The difference between the movies is the fight scenes.

“Southpaw” displays a more realistic view than the cartoon-type hits Rocky Balboa gave and received.

And the storyline in “Southpaw” is more believable. It delves into the financial ruins Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and even Hearns lived through.

“To me, the movie was spot on,” said McKart, the Monroe fighter who held the WBO and WBA light middleweight titles. “That is one of the more realistic movies I’ve ever seen from the standpoint of the part 50 Cent plays (the promoter).

“But that is your typical boxing. When you are on top, everybody is riding with you. But when you hit bottom, people step on you.”

It made Hearns appreciate his former manager, the late Emanuel Steward.

“As a boxer, you have to put your faith in your handlers,” Hearns said. “And I always had faith in Emanuel Steward and the people around me. He did his job and he did a great job.”

Heart strings tugged

The hardest part of the movie to deal with, however, wasn’t the fighting. It was Hope’s painful separation from his daughter.

McKart said one thing a boxer can’t lose sight of his family.

“I always put my kids first,” McKart said. “I didn’t make bad decisions that affected my kids.

“I just know the emotions that kids go through every time you are in the ring. I can remember my kids coming to me and saying ‘Hang it up. It’s time for you to go.’ That broke me down.”

In the end, though, “Southpaw” deserves credit for being a great movie.

Hearns believes he saw a masterpiece.

“I have been there, and I will say this movie is very good,” Hearns said. “I have nothing bad to say about ‘Rocky,’ (but) this one was better.”